You’ve Got Me Couping Like a Baby
Way back last year, I highlighted a title that was pretty much my ideal filler game: Coup. Confrontation, deception, and bullying, all crammed into one fifteen-minute package. Glorious.
Well, now I’ve been given the opportunity to review it all over again, because Coup just got a mouthful of a sequel. Coup: Rebellion G54 they’re calling it, for some reason. And it’s totally blowing me away.
For the uninitiated, the idea behind the original Coup was that you were trying to take control of an Italian city state by corralling the favor of the city’s most powerful figures. You were given two cards at the start of the game, hidden from everyone but you, which showed the actions you could safely conduct. Having the ear of the Duke, for instance, gave you access to the treasury, while the Assassin could eliminate an opponent for a modest fee. The twist was that you could take any action, even those that you weren’t holding in your hand. Of course, your fellows were free to call you out if they suspected you lacked the proper card, though this was a risky venture that put them at risk if it turned out you were being honest after all. The result was a terrifically tight little game where every gesture, stutter, or stockpiled coin had tremendous ramifications. It was, in a word, eccellente.
Coup G54 is more of the same. But when I say “the same,” I’m referring to one of the best filler games out there. When I say “more,” I mean a whole hell of a lot of it. See, Coup G54 isn’t merely content to sit back and continue its reign in silence. Rather, it’s launching a coup against itself. Which is why it now provides twenty-five characters.
You read that right: twenty-five. The original game had five, which now seems a bit anorexic by comparison.
Not that you’ll have to remember twenty-five actions at any given time — plus, of course, the basic Income and Coup actions that are always available to anyone. The beauty of Coup G54 is the way each setup creates an entirely distinct experience, assembling five different characters whose actions you’ll be lying about. These are broken into four broad categories to ensure a balanced experience, so there will always be a Communications role (for swapping out cards), Finance (to gain credits), Force (to hurt other players), and a pair of Special Interests — which do all sorts of crazy things. It goes without saying that the combination of roles makes for an entirely different game each time. Even the setup feels uncommonly involved, with everyone mulling over the possible uses of each character as they’re revealed. “Aha, so the Banker and the Judge are out,” you might think. “That means people will have easy access to money, and the act of hurting somebody gives them more. Which makes it more likely that if I hurt someone directly, they’ll have enough money to hurt me back. But not if I use the Foreign Consular to establish a treaty between us before they can retaliate…”
I’ll give you an example. In one game, we were having money troubles. The Finance role for that game was the Speculator, who gives you as much cash as you already have — a high-reward option that also carries some extra risk, because if someone catches you faking it, you return the money you earned to the bank and your accuser gets to swipe all the cash you invested, leaving you penniless. Needless to say, there weren’t many people bluffing on that one. Making matters worse, we had two players claiming to be Politicians, taking bribes from everyone else. The result was that two people were getting gluttonously wealthy and launching coups while everyone else went broke.
Well, about halfway in, most players had lost one of their cards. See, when someone hurts you with a card or catches you in a lie, you flip one of your cards face-up, losing its power. Having both of your cards face-up means you’re dead. My friend Adam had just lost his first card, and everyone leaned in, curious what it was. When he revealed a Politician, we breathed a sigh of relief that there would be fewer bribes to pay.
To our surprise, his next turn he asked for a bribe again, and everyone roared their challenges. Naturally, he was holding a second Politician.
Now, once a card is revealed it must be shuffled back into the deck, and its owner draws a replacement. This keeps the proceedings uncertain. Since you can never really be sure what a player is holding, they always have the option to bluff. Over the next couple turns, Adam went right back to his extorting ways. Only this time, everyone was too afraid to challenge him. He eventually stockpiled enough cash to pay the Guerrilla to kill off his final rival. With nothing to lose, Adam’s victim challenged him.
Sure enough, Adam had the Guerrilla, and was safe to use its action. He’d spent the first half the game telling the truth, and the second half lying, and won for it.
I’ll give another example to show how alternate setups give rise to very different styles of games.
Forty minutes later the table was frozen in an uncomfortable detente. There was plenty of cash on the table, thanks to the generosity of the Farmer, but everyone was ill at ease because the Force card that time was the General, a real jerk who targets everybody at once. Except other Generals, because professional courtesy and such.
However, we soon had a complex interlocking system of alliances, thanks to two of the Special Interest roles. The Peacekeeper’s ability is to put a special token in front of herself that blocks all attacks, while the Foreign Consular sets treaty tokens between himself and someone else, making it impossible for them to attack one another. What’s more, those claiming to be Farmers were promising to share only with those players who didn’t attack them. When somebody finally accumulated enough cash to claim an attack by the General, very few players were targetable, and every one of them claimed to be Generals as well.
For the next ten minutes, anyone claiming to be the General was forced to pick through the allegiances, treaties, peacekeepers, and liars seated around the table. In the end, some were caught bluffing to avoid the General’s attack. They died instantly, their first card lost to the General and the second because they were unveiled as filthy liars.
In the end, the game was taken by a humble farmer, armed only with patiently accumulated cabbages and rutabagas.
The point is, while every game revolves around the same concepts — the strained relationship between lying and truth-telling, the accumulation of wealth to bring about the end of the game, and the reading of your friends’ erratic behavior — the difference in roles makes each session feel fresh and exciting. One match might revolve around the Missionary, with players shrugging off damage. Others might center around the crowdfunded attack of the Protester, who requires two different players to pay money to harm someone, or the Producer’s ability to swap cards with another player, or the Spy’s tendency to take two actions per turn, or the Customs Officer’s tax on an action of his choice.
It’s even better than Coup, even without the original game’s slick city-state setting. Even so, the most appropriate word to describe it still seems to be eccellente.